Pacers-Bulls rivalry still going strong

INDIANAPOLIS -- The significance of Saturday's preseason opener between the Indiana Pacers and the Chicago Bulls isn't lost on Frank Vogel.

"This might have more attention for a first preseason game than maybe any game in the history of the league," Vogel joked after Friday's practice. "With Danny Granger coming back and Derrick Rose's return … It will be exciting, but it still is just the first preseason game."

While that might be the mantra Vogel wants his team to remember, the young coach also acknowledges that he still considers the Bulls a rival.

"To me, any team that's competing for the East is a rival," Vogel said. "They're in our division, clearly our top competition to win the division again and repeat as the division champs, so, sure, I would say [they're still a rival]."

His players agreed with that assessment.

"I think Chicago will always be a rival," Granger said. "When you go to the United Center, it's crazy. They have a big home-court advantage there. They have a huge following, not only locally in Chicago, but nationally as well, and I think they'll always be a rival to us.

"We're really close, so a lot of times there's a lot of Bulls fans here, and vice versa. I think as long as we're in the division, we're going to be rivals."

Now that Rose is making his long-awaited return, the rivalry, which has been strong for several seasons, figures to become even bigger, especially given that both teams believe they have improved in the offseason.

"They're contenders," Pacers forward Paul George said. "[They're] going to give us a run in the Central division, like always. That's just what they do -- with or without Derrick Rose in their lineup. They find a way to win games and still play a Chicago Bull brand of basketball. We expect to get a lot out of them."

Vogel expects the Bulls to be as solid as ever with Rose back in the fold.

"Contender to win the East, contender to win the title," he said. "That's where they left off when he was last playing as the MVP. A 60-win type of team. I think they're going to be that good."

Don't let the plaudits for the Bulls fool you, though. Vogel and his players believe they are just as good -- if not better -- than the Bulls and every other team in the East.

"We're confident," George said. "We're confident in our team. Obviously, we got a lot of stuff to do to get put in that position, but we're confident. We're confident if we go out and play our game and stay to what we do and continue to work hard, then we'll be in the position we want to be in."